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Hinterkaifeck five days after the attack
|Location||Modern-day Waidhofen, Bavaria, Germany|
|Date||March 31, 1922|
|Home invasion, mass murder|
Hinterkaifeck was a small farmstead situated between the Bavarian towns of Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen, approximately 70 kilometres (43 mi) north of Munich, that has become infamous as the scene of one of the most gruesome and puzzling unsolved crimes in German history. On the evening of March 31, 1922, the six inhabitants of the farm were killed with a mattock. The six victims were parents Andreas Gruber (63) and Cäzilia Gruber (72); their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel (35); Viktoria's children, Cäzilia (7) and Josef (2); and the maid, Maria Baumgartner (44).
- 1 Location
- 2 Murders
- 3 Investigation
- 4 Suspects
- 5 Legacy
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
Built around 1863, Hinterkaifeck (the prefix hinter, which is part of many German place names, means behind) was never an official place name nor a separate district with this name, but only an unofficial house name. Nearby Kaifeck is an Einödhof, or single farm settlement, located just over 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) to the south of the "murder farm" on the municipal road to Schrobenhausen. The farm, however, did not belong to Kaifeck, but to the village of Gröbern as house number 27 ½ of the municipality Wangen, and was incorporated into Waidhofen in 1971.
Less than a year after the murders, and after the murder investigation, the farm was completely demolished revealing additional evidence (the mattock hidden in the attic and a pen-knife in the hay in the barn). Since then, the site has hosted no structure, apart from a memorial shrine, and today, the former land of Hinterkaifeck is an open agricultural area.
Strange things began to occur in and around Hinterkaifeck sometime shortly before the attack. Six months before the attack, the family maid quit. It has been widely claimed that her reason for leaving was that she had heard strange sounds in the attic and believed the house to be haunted, but this is unsubstantiated; nothing in her statement to the police suggests this. Andreas Gruber found a strange newspaper from Munich on the property in March 1922. He could not remember buying it and thus Gruber initially believed that the postman had lost the newspaper. This was not the case, however, as no one in the vicinity subscribed to the paper. Just days before the murders, Gruber told neighbours he discovered tracks in the fresh snow that led from the forest to a broken door lock in the farm's machine room. While this alone was not unsettling, it was the fact that the tracks did not lead away from the house again that unnerved him. Around the same time, some of the family's house keys went missing.
Later, during the night they heard footsteps in the attic, but Gruber found no one when he searched the building. Although he told several people about these alleged observations, he refused to accept help and the details went unreported to the police. According to a school friend of the seven-year Cäzilia Gabriel, the young girl reported that her mother Viktoria had fled the farm the night before the act after a violent quarrel and only hours later had been found in the forest. The family also repeatedly observed a man with a moustache, standing at the forest's edge and staring toward the house, apparently observing them.
March 31 - April 1, 1922
On the afternoon of March 31, 1922, a Friday, the new maid, Maria Baumgartner, arrived at the farm. Maria's sister had escorted her there and left the farm after a short stay. She was most likely the last person to see the inhabitants alive. It appears that in the late evening, Viktoria Gabriel, her seven-year-old daughter Cäzilia, and her parents Andreas and Cäzilia, were lured to the family barn through the stable, where they were murdered, one at a time. The perpetrator (or perpetrators) used a mattock belonging to the family farm and killed the family with blows to the head. The perpetrator moved into the living quarters, where - with the same murder weapon - he killed Baumgartner in her bedchamber. Presumably, he killed Josef last, as he slept in his bassinet in his mother's bedroom.
Four days passed between the murders and the discovery of the bodies. On April 1, coffee sellers Hans Schirovsky and Eduard Schirovsky arrived in Hinterkaifeck to place an order. When no one responded to the knocks on the door and the window, they walked around the yard but found no one. They only noticed that the gate to the machine house was open before they decided to leave. Cäzilia Gabriel was absent without excuse for the next few days of school and the family failed to show up for Sunday worship. On Monday, April 3, the postman, Josef Mayer, was delivering the mail at Hinterkaifeck when he noticed that Saturday's mail was still where he had left it, and that no one had been in the yard.
Assembler Albert Hofner went to Hinterkaifeck on April 4 to repair the engine of the food chopper. He stated that he had not seen any of the family and had heard nothing but the sounds of the farm animals and the dog inside the barn. After waiting for an hour, he decided to start his repair, which he completed in roughly 4.5 hours. In Gröbern, around 2:30 PM, he met the daughters of the village guide, Lorenz Schlittenbauer, and told them that the repairs in Hinterkaifeck were done. Hofner also told Georg Greger, the mayor of Wangen, about the ghostly emptiness of Hinterkaifeck.
Around 3:30 PM, Schlittenbauer sent his son Johann (16) and stepson Josef (9) to Hinterkaifeck to see if they could make contact with the family. When they reported that they did not see anyone, Schlittenbauer headed to the farm the same day with Michael Pöll and Jakob Sigl. Entering the barn, they found the bodies of Andreas Gruber, his wife Cäzilia Gruber, his daughter Viktoria Gabriel, and his granddaughter Cäzilia, murdered in the barn. Shortly after, they found the chamber maid, Maria Baumgartner, and the youngest family member, Viktoria's son Josef, murdered in the home.
Inspector Georg Reingruber and his colleagues from the Munich Police Department investigated the killings. Initial investigations were hampered by the number of people who had interacted with the crime scene, moved bodies and items around, and even cooked and ate meals in the kitchen. The day after the discovery of the bodies, court physician Johann Baptist Aumüller performed the autopsies in the barn. It was established that a mattock was the most likely murder weapon, though the weapon itself was not at the scene. Evidence showed that the younger Cäzilia had been alive for several hours after the assault – she had torn her hair out in tufts while lying in the straw. The skulls of the victims were removed and sent to Munich, where they were further examined. The heads were last kept in a justice building in Augsburg and were later lost, possibly destroyed in the Allied bombings in World War II. On Saturday April 8, the victims were buried in the Waidhofen cemetery.
The police first suspected the motive to be robbery, and they interrogated travelling craftsmen, vagrants, and several inhabitants from the surrounding villages. When a large amount of money was found in the house, they abandoned this theory. It was clear the perpetrator(s) had remained at the farm for several days: someone had fed the cattle, eaten the entire supply of bread from the kitchen, and had recently cut meat from the pantry. It was also possible that the perpetrator remained on site for a few days after the discovery. Neighbours also reported smoke coming from the chimney all weekend. The perpetrator would have easily found the money if robbery had been the intention, but as it was, the money remained untouched.
With no clear motive to be gleaned from the crime scene, the police began to formulate a list of suspects. Despite repeated arrests, no murderer has ever been found and the files were closed in 1955. Nevertheless, the last interrogations took place in 1986 before Kriminalhauptkommissar Konrad Müller retired. In all, more than 100 suspects have been questioned throughout the years, but none of the questioning ever yielded any conclusive results.
In the inspection record of the court commission, it was noted that the victims were probably drawn to the barn by restlessness in the stable resulting in noises from the animals. A later attempt, however, revealed that at least human screams from the barn could not be not heard in the living area. This raises the question of why the four eldest members of the family went to the barn in the first place.
The exact sequence of events could not be clarified without a doubt. There were only five pictures taken of the crime scene: two with the bodies in the barn, one of the dead maid in her chamber, one of Josef's wrecked bassinet in Viktoria's bedroom, and an outside view from the yard. Fingerprints were not secured. A reconstruction based on the positioning of the bodies revealed that Viktoria Gabriel was likely the first murder victim in the barn. Next was likely the elder Cäzilia Gruber, followed by her husband Andreas Gruber, and finally Cäzilia Gabriel. In the house, the maid must have been killed first, then Josef.
The assumption has often been made that the killer was already on the premises and inside the roof before the act, based on the stories Gruber told his neighbours before his death. Some of the evidence for this theory included shifted roof tiles and hollows in the hay, but these were later interpreted as possible hiding places for the incestuous activities of Gruber and Viktoria. This would explain why these irregularities went unnoticed by Gruber, if he had in fact thoroughly searched the farm several times as he said.
On the night after the crime, three days before the bodies were discovered, the artisan Michael Plöckl happened to pass by Hinterkaifeck. Plöckl observed that the oven had been heated by someone. That person had approached him with a lantern and blinded him, whereupon he hastily continued on his way. Plöckl also noticed that the smoke from the fireplace had a disgusting smell. This instance was not investigated and there were no investigations conducted to determine what had been burned that night in the oven.
On April 1 at 3 AM, the farmer and butcher Simon Reißländer, on the way home near Brunnen, saw two unknown figures at the edge of the forest. When the strangers saw him, they turned around so that their faces could not be seen. Later, when he heard of the murders in Hinterkaifeck, he thought it possible that the strangers might be involved.
The fitter Albert Hofner was at Hinterkaifeck for several hours of repair work after the crime, but was only questioned in 1925, as the police had failed to conduct an interrogation immediately after the crime. His statement suggests that the perpetrator was back in the yard during the time of the repair. The doors to the house had been locked and he had not met anyone, but he did hear the dogs barking inside. At the end of his repair, a dog was tied up outside instead and the barn door was open. When the men discovered the bodies later that day, the dog was inside the barn and the barn door had been closed again.
In the middle of May 1927, a stranger was said to have stopped a resident of Waidhofen at midnight. He asked him questions about the murder and then shouted that he was the murderer before he ran into the woods. The stranger was never identified.
The husband of Viktoria Gabriel, Karl Gabriel, had reportedly been killed in December 1914, during the First World War. However, his body had never been recovered. After the murders, people began to speculate if he had indeed died in the war. Viktoria Gabriel had given birth to Josef illegitimately in her husband's absence. Two-year-old Josef was rumoured to be the son of Viktoria and her father Andreas, who had an incestuous relationship that was documented in court and known in the village. Some theorized that Karl Gabriel killed the family to seek revenge. Although soldiers from his regiment testified to his death and the police were inclined to believe them, this theory gained new nourishment over the years, after people repeatedly reported that they had met Gabriel or could confirm that he had exchanged his identity with that of a fallen comrade.
After the end of the Second World War, war captives from the Schrobenhausen region who were released prematurely from Soviet captivity claimed that they had been sent home by a Bavarian-speaking Soviet officer who claimed to be the murderer of Hinterkaifeck. Some of these men later revised their statements, however, which diminishes their credibility. Many theorized that this Soviet might be Karl Gabriel, because those that claimed to have seen the man after his reported death testified that Gabriel had wanted to go to Russia. Whether Karl Gabriel lived through World War I can never be known for certain, and even if it could, there is no proving that he was the Hinterkaifeck killer.
Shortly after the death of his first wife in 1918, Lorenz Schlittenbauer was believed to have a relationship with Viktoria Gabriel and fathered Josef. The initials "L.S" appear on Josef's birth certificate, though these could be the initials of an attending doctor. Schlittenbauer came under suspicion by locals early in the investigation because of his several suspicious actions immediately after the discovery of the bodies. When Schlittenbauer and his friends came to investigate, they had to break a gate to enter the barn because all of the doors were locked. However, immediately after finding the four bodies in the barn, Schlittenbauer apparently unlocked the front door with a key and (suspiciously) entered the house alone. A key to the house had gone missing several days before the murders, though it is also possible that Schlittenbauer, as a neighbor or as Viktoria's potential lover, might have been given a key. When asked by his companions why he had gone into the house alone when it was unclear if the murderer might still be there, Schlittenbauer allegedly stated that he went to look for his son Josef. Regardless of any of the above rumor, it is known that Schlittenbauer had disturbed the bodies at the scene, thus potentially compromising the investigation.
For many years after, local suspicion remained on Schlittenbauer because of his strange comments, which were seen as indicating knowledge of details that only the killer would know. According to reports in the files for the case, local teacher Hans Yblagger discovered Schlittenbauer visiting the remains of the demolished Hinterkaifeck in 1925. Upon being asked why he was there, Schlittenbauer stated that the perpetrator's attempt to bury the family's remains in the barn had been hindered by the frozen ground. This was seen as evidence that Schlittenbauer had intimate knowledge of the conditions of the ground at the time of the murders, although being a neighbor and familiar with the local land, he may have been making an educated guess. Another speculation was that Schlittenbauer murdered the family after Viktoria demanded financial support for young Josef. Before his death in 1941, Schlittenbauer conducted and won several civil claims for slander against persons who described him as the "murderer of Hinterkaifeck".
On April 9, 1922, lead Reingruber wanted to question Adolf Gump in connection with the murders as it had been rumoured he was in a relationship with Viktoria. However, no evidence was ever found to prove this claim. With three others, Adolf Gump had participated in the murder of nine peasants in Silesia. Reingruber could not rule out Adolf Gump's potential involvement in the murders at Hinterkaifeck, and he instructed the corresponding gendarmerie stations to ask for an alibi for the last few days in March 1922.
In 1951, prosecutor Andreas Popp investigated Adolf's brother Anton Gump in relation to the murders at Hinterkaifeck. The sister of the Gumps, Kreszentia Mayer, claimed on her deathbed that her brothers Adolf and Anton had committed the murders. As a result, Anton Gump was remanded to police custody, but Adolf had already died in 1944. After a short time, however, Anton was dismissed again, and in 1954, the case against him was finally discontinued because he could not be proven to have participated in the crime.
Karl S. and Andreas S.
In 1971, a woman named Therese T. wrote a letter citing an event in her youth: At the age of twelve, she witnessed her mother receiving a visit from the mother of the brothers Karl and Andreas S. The woman claimed that her sons from Sattelberg were the two murderers of Hinterkaifeck. The mother said, "Andreas regretted that he lost his penknife" in the course of the conversation. In fact, when the farm was demolished in 1923, a pocket knife was found that could not be clearly assigned to anyone. However, the knife could have easily belonged to one of the murder victims. This track was followed without result. Kreszenz Rieger, the former maid of Hinterkaifeck, was certain she had already seen the penknife in the yard during her service.
Peter Weber was named a suspect by Josef Betz. The two worked together in the winter of 1919/1920 as labourers and they shared a chamber. According to Betz, Weber spoke in the time of a remote farm, Hinterkaifeck. Weber knew that only one old couple lived there with their daughter and her two children. It is likely he knew about the incest between Gruber and his daughter. Betz testified in a hearing that Weber had suggested killing the old man to get the family's money. When Betz did not respond to the offer, Weber stopped talking about it.
Bichler brothers and Georg Siegl
The former maid Kreszenz Rieger worked from November 1920 to about September 1921 on Hinterkaifeck. She suspected the brothers Anton and Karl Bichler to have committed the murders. Anton Bichler had helped with the potato harvest on Hinterkaifeck and therefore knew the premises. Rieger said Bichler talked to her often about the Gruber and Gabriel family. Anton reportedly suggested that the family ought to be dead. The maid also emphasised in her interrogation that the farm dog, who barked at everyone, never barked at Anton. In addition, she reported speaking with a stranger through her window at night. The maid believed that it was Karl Bichler, the brother of Anton. She thought that Anton and Karl Bichler could have committed the murder together with Georg Siegl, who had worked at Hinterkaifeck and knew of the family fortune. Supposedly, Siegl had broken into the home in November 1920 and had stolen a number of items, though he denied it.  He did state that he had carved the handle of the murder weapon when he was working at Hinterkaifeck and knew that the tool would have been kept in the barn passage.
The Thaler brothers were also suspected, according to a statement by the former maid Kreszenz Rieger. The brothers had already committed several minor burglaries in the area before the crime. Rieger said that Josef Thaler stood at her window at night and asked her questions about the family, but she gave no answer. In conversation, Josef Thaler claimed to know which family member was sleeping in which room and stated that they had a lot of money. He also stated that the quayside[clarification needed] had a lot of money. During their conversation, Rieger noted that there was another person nearby. According to her statement, Josef Thaler and the stranger looked at the machine house and turned their eyes upwards.
Author Bill James, in his book, The Man from the Train, allege that Paul Mueller may have been responsible for the murders. The murders bear some similarities to his crimes in the United States, including the slaughter of an entire family in their isolated home, use of the blunt edge of a farm tool as a weapon (a pick axe), and the apparent absence of robbery as a motive. The authors suspect that Mueller, described as a German immigrant in contemporary media, might have departed the US for his homeland after private investigators and journalists began to notice and publicize patterns in family murders across state lines following the brazen 1912 murder of two families in a single night in Colorado Springs, Colorado and a similar family murder weeks afterward a few hundred miles away in neighboring Kansas.
The strange and unclear circumstances of the case have made the case legendary as one of the most notorious unsolved murder cases in German history and have also sparked worldwide interest that continues until today, resulting in many fictional and non-fictional works based on the case, including books, films, theater plays and other forms of art.
Many books and newspaper articles have been devoted to the murders. A series of articles by Josef Ludwig Hecker in the Schrobenhausener Zeitung revived interest in the murders. Munich journalist Peter Leuschner wrote two books with the title Hinterkaifeck: Der Mordfall. Spuren eines mysteriösen Verbrechens, in 1979 and 1997. The second book is an extension of the first book; Leuschner quotes the original police files.
A documentary film, Hinterkaifeck - Symbol des Unheimlichen (1981) is based on the Leuschner book; Hans Fegert adapted the book, directed the film (shot on Super 8, with sound), and was the cameraman. The film was shown regularly in Ingolstadt. Ten years later, Reinhard Keilich's play Hinterkaifeck – Deutschlands geheimnisvollster Mordfall (1991) was produced, and at the same time Kurt K. Hieber produced another documentary, shot on location, and shown on television and in local cinemas. Also in 1991, radio station Funkhaus Ingolstadt aired a documentary, Hinterkaifeck – auf den Spuren eines Mörders, and the Abendzeitung (München) ran a series of articles called Die sechs Toten vom Einödhof – Bayerns rätselhaftestes Verbrechen.
In 2007, the students of the Polizeifachhochschule (police academy) in Fürstenfeldbruck examined the case using modern criminal investigation techniques. They concluded that it is impossible to definitively solve the crime after so much time had passed. The primitive investigation techniques available at the time of the murders yielded little evidence, and in the decades since the murders, evidence has been lost and suspects have since died. Despite these setbacks, the students did establish a prime suspect but did not name the suspect out of respect for still‑living relatives.
Tannöd is a novel by German author Andrea Maria Schenkel first published in Germany in January 2006. It depicts the investigation of a family murder heavily inspired by the Hinterkaifeck case (but set in the 1950s). It was adapted into a film starring Julia Jentsch in 2009.
In 2017, the last chapter of The Man from the Train by Bill James and his daughter Rachel McCarthy James, briefly discusses the murders at Hinterkaifeck. The authors explain the possibility that the German crimes might have been committed by Paul Mueller, the titular serial killer the authors believe killed several families in the United States under similar circumstances between 1898 and 1912. The murders attributed to Mueller, including the Villisca axe murders, were apparently random nighttime home invasions in or near small railroad towns that left entire families bludgeoned to death with the blunt end of an axe, and were probably motivated by a sadistic and necrophilic attraction to prepubescent girls.The authors rate the chances of Mueller as the Hinterkaifeck killer as "more or less a toss-up" but conclude "there's no real reason to believe that it's not him".
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- Hinter Kaifeck (2009) on IMDb
- James, Bill; James, Rachel McCarthy. The man from the train: the solving of a century-old serial killer mystery. New York: Scribner. ISBN 9781476796253. OCLC 962016034.
- Guido Golla (2016). Hinterkaifeck: Autopsie eines Sechsfachmordes. Norderstedt 2016, ISBN 978-3-741239-53-3.